Review: Street Corner Arts' The Gulf
Simple narrative hides its power in what it doesn't say
By Shanon Weaver,
4:47PM, Thu. Dec. 15, 2022
Two lesbians are fighting in a boat… No, this is not the set-up for what is sure to be a bad joke; nor is it the beginning of a bad review. It’s what Audrey Cefaly’s The Gulf is about, plain and simple.
I’ll cop to having to put on my analytical hat extra-tight for this production, directed with finesse by Carlo Lorenzo Garcia. I’ve been familiar with and fond of Street Corner Arts’ work since their inception (and in the interest of full-disclosure, friends with its members for even longer). While they’ve always done exceptional work with simple stories told simply (as their many Austin theatre awards surely prove), I was a bit confounded by the ultra-simplicity of this script and their choice to produce it.
Their first show in a year, and only their second live performance since the ‘Ronapocolypse, it’s a rather straight-forward tale. A couple, Kendra and Betty, are in a boat in the shallows off the Gulf of Mexico. Kendra is fishing. The outboard motor breaks, stranding them. Their conversations vary between sweet and heated as they face questions about their futures, and their own relationship.
That’s it. It’s very slice-of-life. And, after much consideration, I’ve decided that’s the beauty of it. We’ve always expected a lot from theatre (as we should!) especially in Austin, where we run the gamut from performance art to flat-out activist theatre and all things in between. With the pandemic twisting the knife in a theatre town already decimated by dwindling budgets and venue shortages, it would seem now more than ever productions must be limited to those stories deemed “most important to tell,” yeah?
But what does that mean?
Simple though the story is, its dialogue is written incredibly well. Cefaly has a natural ear for it, and those who appreciate the “mirror up to nature” aspect of theatre and acting will be delighted. And the acting… hoo-boy, the acting. Natalie Garcia and Kelsey Mazak (Kendra and Betty respectively) dive in with such clarity and authenticity that one often forgets they’re watching a play (probably the greatest kudos a play can receive, no?). They are listening to each other, invested not only in their characters but their characters’ relationship. The power of these performances more than make up for lack of power in the script itself.
But…I have to pause to ask myself if that’s a fair judgement of the script. Is it really as bland as all that? No. On further reflection, the true power of the script comes from what isn’t there.
Having recently spent three years in a MFA program for acting, I can attest to an ever- spreading lack of appreciation for nuance in theatre of late. I can hear the voices of many of my students asking exactly what message this show sends, and what point it makes about LGBTQI+ issues. Since, you know, these characters are gay, so they have to talk about that, right?
There’s the power. The message so deftly smuggled in. The absolute normalization of this relationship. They are who they are, no need for explanations, justifications, or apologies. Their problems are as common as any other relationship in all of history. This is what we are aiming for with theatre, no matter how we get there. A world where any so-called “different” relationship — be it transgender, genderqueer, homosexual, heterosexual or any and all things contained therein — is so normal, so commonplace, that we need not even mention it. There is certainly conflict, stasis shattering and returning, all the “correct” elements of a well-made play, but the playwright doesn’t waste time trying to write a “gay” play (here I’m reminded of playwright Samuel D. Hunter saying he just goes to lunch, not “gay lunch.”). The story is what the story is.
Perhaps the overall point of this well-crafted, well worth seeing production is to force us to ask ourselves why we need more than that. I’m beginning to wonder if I do.
Street Corner Arts' The GulfHyde Park Theatre, 511 W 43rd, 512/479-7529
Through Dec. 17
Time: 74 mins.